Oil Rallies on Lower Than Expected U.S. Stock Build

Oil futures rallied and U.S. crude rose 5 percent to a 2015 peak on Wednesday after government data showed crude oil inventories in the United States rose less than expected last week.

Though hitting a record level for a 14th consecutive week, U.S. crude inventories rose only 1.3 million barrels to 483.69 million, the smallest build since the week ending Jan. 2, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday. [EIA/S]

That build was below expectations for a 4.1 million barrel rise in a Reuters survey of analysts.

U.S. May crude <CLc1> was up $2.68 at $55.97 a barrel at 1:27 p.m. EDT (1727 GMT), having reached a 2015 peak at $56.05.

The Brent and U.S. futures spread <LCO-CL1=R> was $3.76 a barrel, after narrowing to $3.55. It was more than $13 in early March.

Expiring front-month May Brent <LCOc1> rose $1.22 to $59.65, having reached $59.95. Brent hit its $63 peak for the year in February.

The more heavily traded June Brent <LCOM5> rose more, reaching $62.50 intraday and pushing its premium to May Brent <LCOc1-LCOc2> to $2.75 intraday.

Both Brent and U.S. crude pushed above their 100-day moving averages on Tuesday.

"The smallish crude oil build and the drop in gasoline inventories pushed prices up and also attracted some technical buying," said Gene McGillian, senior analyst at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut.

A bigger-than-expected 2.1 million barrel drop in gasoline stocks in EIA data lifted U.S. May RBOB <RBc1> above $1.91 a gallon intraday, highest since early March.

Wednesday's EIA report followed its Monday report forecasting U.S. shale production in May would post its first monthly decline in four years and North Dakota's Tuesday report showing the state's production fell in February from January.

Oil traders are monitoring OPEC talks with other producers.

Russia has been holding "unprecedentedly active" consultations with the OPEC and Latin American countries, a senior Russian official said Wednesday, though a Gulf OPEC delegate said the comment "does not mean a joint cut in production."

Prices also drew support from tensions in the Middle East, where fighting continued in Yemen.

"Any instability's always going to keep (prices) fairly buoyant," said Rob Montefusco, a senior trader at Sucden Financial.

The global oil market may take longer to tighten than expected due to a surge in OPEC output and a potential rise in Iranian exports, the International Energy Agency said in a report on Wednesday.

(By Robert Gibbons; Additional reporting by Himanshu Ojha in London and Henning Gloystein in Singapore; Editing by Dale Hudson, William Hardy, David Evans and Chizu Nomiyama)